Thursday, 14 March 2013

Spitting in the Sand

One of my earliest memories as a child is of being at playgroup, standing around the sandbox with a little boy. We were happily playing with the sand and various plastic objects when one of us worked out that if you spat into the sand it changed the texture. Instead of being dry it went hard and crumbly. And so we then spent a happy while spitting in the sand, making the dry grains turn into little soggy sand balls.

Then the teacher saw what we were up to, told us off for spitting, made us pack away the sandbox and that was the end of that.

A funny little insignificant memory, until I had my own children. And then I realised that spitting in the sand all those years ago was really just a simple act of two children discovering the world. And a classic case of those two children seeing only innocent wonder in something new, but the adult seeing only mess and naughtiness.

I think I’ve based my parenting style on this little story over the years. As much as I have boundaries and don’t allow my kids to run wild (most of the time!), I’m happy for them to explore, make mess and not always play by the rules.

Like the other day.

After a fairly short-lived painting session, as always, Oliver asked for a sink bath. This involves me running the kitchen sink full of tepid water and bubbles and a nudie Ollie hopping in to clean off, while I clear up the painting paraphernalia.

It happens every time. It’s part of the painting-at-home ritual and he stays in there for hours. Sometimes he just pours water, other times he might do the washing up. He’s always very content.

On this particular day, after wiping paint splatters off the dining table, I returned to the kitchen to find Ollie making some serious potions. There was painty water all over the floor, squirts of hand cream all over the place and the half full bottle of washing up liquid was empty.

I guess I could have told him off for wasting washing up liquid and my nice hand cream, or for making more mess for me to clear up, or for splashing more paint all over the place. But I left him to it. He was so happy, I didn’t have the heart to say anything. And I really didn’t mind. He was in there for an hour and a half. Lila slept, I cooked dinner and chatted to him while he played. 

Last weekend in a similar scenario I found Ollie with his toolbox playing a lovely game in the kitchen that involved tearing off bits of clingfilm and placing them here there and everywhere in a trail over the kitchen tiles. I have no idea what he was doing, but he was engrossed. And again, I left him to it.

Then there are the times I let him leap up from the dining table without waiting for everyone to finish, because he suddenly has a burst of imagination and is desperate to play a game he’s just created.

And as much as I probably should be consistent with table manners and the like, I just can’t bear to squash all this creativity for rules and regulations. Of course I agree that manners are important and rules are necessary, but I don’t want to be that parent who only ever sees things through adult eyes.

So tell me, because I’m really interested to know - are you a stickler for rules or do you let your kids do things like this in the name of fun and exploration? Am I too relaxed?! Is this going to come back and bite me one day?!


  1. Hi Gillian, I loved reading this -you are a wonderful intuitive Mama for letting play develop like this. We have always been clear that we want spirited kids, who can explore, develop their personalities, but within clear, fair boundaries. We have a little bit of 'punk' spirit in this house and being a bit non conformist ourselves we don't want to squash the life out our wee ones either. Thanks for this it was great to read, Jo xx

    1. That's lovely of you to say Jo. We definitely have a lot of that punk spirit in this house too! It's hard to get the balance right sometimes, but hopefully they won't turn out to be too wild! x

  2. Well if it is going to come back and bite you one day, I guess I will get bitten too :) We are pretty relaxed too, although I really think we are just letting our little man be a kid, a good old fashioned kid. We do have boundaries, for sure, but not so much that we completely squish his imagination or creativity.

  3. I love this post! I'm with you. I don't mind the mess when I can see the enjoyment and imagination and creativity that's going on. I often remind myself that my big girl is just three. So easy to expect so much of them xx

    1. Yes I'm the same - if they're just being messy and rude about it, then there are rules, but if it's part of a game I'm ok with it. I just love watching his little games unfold. x

  4. I really like your parenting style! I am afraid i can be too uptight with mess. I know, it's a major failing of mine. But I do let my son "wash up" standing on a chair at the sink which he loves and keeps him happy for hours.

    Also, one thing that still keeps my two amused for hours and is creative and mess free is this: give them a couple of muffin/cupcake baking trays, some empty paper or silicone muffin cases, and a packet of dried pasta. Mine would spend AGES filling the little cases with pasta shells and doing pretend cooking, but because they were using real food and my kitchen kit, it seemed to satisfy them in a way that "pretend" cooking at the toy cooker did not. And I could get on with the dinner without being hassled!

    Gillian x

    1. Hi Gillian, the mess thing can be hard sometimes, I do have my moments. We love a bit of washing up too! And similar on the pasta thing, albeit a more messy version, we fill up a cupcake baking tray with different types of lentils and mini pasta and Lila just loves sitting there with a spoon moving all the bits around the tin. Keeps her amused for hours. Half of it does eventually end up on the floor though!

  5. Hi Anna,
    my daughter just turned eight months so there isn´t much about rules and manners going on here so far, but I do hope that I´ll be as relaxed as you when the time comes. I also don´t want to kill her creativity and imagination by sticking to the rules everytime.


    PS: Love your blog, very inspiring for a new mom!

    1. Hi Katrine, thanks so much for commenting, it's lovely to have you here. I find the manners thing all so boring, but we do stick to the rules when it comes to please and thank yous. It is hard finding the balance with everything - I'm sure you'll do a fantastic job when the time comes. x

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